MicroPasts: crowdfuelled archaeological research

October 29, 2014

Role(s): Co-InvestigatorThe British Museum

🍵 2 mins to read (suggested)

The MicroPasts project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) between 2013 - 2015, and has since been maintained by the project members out of their own pockets. The project was led by Dr Andy Bevan and Daniel Pett, with high quality research conducted by Chiara Bonnachi, Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Jennifer Wexler and Neil Wilkin.

The project was multifaceted and was intended to do 3 things:

  1. Create a crowdfunding platform for micro-financing of archaeological research projects
  2. Create a crowdsourcing platform for the public to help with the analysis of archaeological data
  3. Work towards the creation of 3d models from structure from motion projects at scale, when masking was required.

To create these platforms, we planned to use open principles - open source software, open data, open access and to collaborate internationally. The video below, from our 2014 conference held at the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington Gore explains more.

Crowdsourcing website

The crowdsourcing website was first launched in October 2013 and used the Shuttleworth Foundation funded Pybossa platform which was based out of Madrid; after we had managed to get the platform installed, we commissioned the founder, Daniel Lombraña González, to create a new version of the platform which was more suited to our needs and to provide advice as to how we maximised and adapted it for our projects. We initially planned to used citizen science to transcribe 30,000 index cards from the British Museum's National Bronze Age Index (NBAI), which was achieved within 13 months (slow progress due to the scanning of the records taking a long time.)

MicroPasts is a free and open-source, crowdsourcing platform which supports massive online data collection about the human past (e.g. for researchers in archaeology, history and heritage). It is inspired by existing multi-application, crowdsourcing projects such as Zooniverse or Crowdcrafting and, like the latter, is built using the excellent Pybossa platform. PyBossa handles storage of data, management of users, and overall workflow, while individual projects are written in Javascript and HTML5.

People could assist existing research projects with tasks that need human intelligence, such as the accurate location of artefact find spots or photographed scenes, the identification of subject matter in historic archives, the masking of photos meant for 3D modelling, or the transcription of letters and catalogues. Other tasks might require on-location contributions by members of the public, such as submitting their own photographs of particular archaeological sites or objects.

By contributing to a MicroPasts project people could:

  • Have a direct impact on research in archaeology, history and heritage
  • Help with tasks that computers cannot do
  • Develop skills that interested them
  • Produce results that will be open and freely usable

Crowdfunding website

The crowdfunding website was launched in 2014 and was based on the Brazilian Catarse platform (which we adapted with Irio Musskopf), and was used to fund several pilot archaeological research projects. This part of the project was mired in university red tape -

  • Financial regulations made it difficult for us to collect and distribute funds
    • We used PayPal to facilitate donations
  • We found that the partner organisations were not very adept at promoting their fundraising projects
  • Our target audience was cash poor!

We wound this part of the project up after the grant funding has ceased.

3D modelling

Using the citizen science platform, we allowed our contributors to mass produce photo masks for huge numbers of images. These were then used to create 3d models by members of the community. For example:


In 2014, we held a conference/workshop at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington Gore, attended by over 100 people, featuring rich discussions and presentations. All the videos of talks are available as a record.

People I worked with

  • Andy Bevan
  • Chiara Bonacchi
  • Rachael Sparks
  • Jennifer Wexler
  • Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert
  • Neil Wilkin
  • Scifabric - Daniel Lombraña González
  • Catarse - Irio Musskopf

Institutional Partners

  • UCL Archaeology
  • Egypt Exploration Society
  • Palestine Exploration Fund
  • Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • The Montpelier Foundation
  • Society of Antiquaries of London
  • New Forest National Park Authority
  • The Fitzwilliam Museum
  • The American Numismatics Society
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • Magic Mountain Excavations
  • Museo Egizio, Torino
  • The Mary Rose Trust
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • The Petrie Museum
  • Museo MudA Las Plassas
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme


  • AHRC
  • Grant amount: £394,395


  • Bonacchi, C, Bevan, A., Keinan, A., Pett, D.E.J. & Wexler, J. (2019) ’Participation in heritage crowdsourcing’ in Museum Management and Curatorship Volume 34 DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2018.1559080
  • Bonacchi, C., Pett, D.E.J., Bevan, A. & Keinan-Schoonbaert, A. (2015) ‘Experiments in Crowd-funding Community Archaeology’ in Journal of Community Archaeology Volume 2. DOI: 10.1179/2051819615Z.00000000041
  • Wexler, J., Bevan, A., Bonacchi, C., Keinan-Schoonbaert, A., Pett, D. & Wilkin, N. (2015) ’Collective Re-Excavation and Lost Media from the Last Century of British Prehistoric Studies’ in Journal of Contemporary Archaeology DOI: 10.1558/jca.v2i1.27124
  • Bonacchi, C., Bevan, A., Pett, D. and Keinan-Schoonbaert, A. Crowd- and Community-Fuelled Archaeology. Early Results from the MicroPasts Project. Proceedings of the Conference ‘Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology’. 22-25 April 2014, Paris, France.
  • Wilkin, N., Bonacchi, C., Wexler, J., Bevan, A., Pett, D, and Keinan-Schoonbaert (2014) ‘Crowd-sourced Archaeological Research. The MicroPasts Project’ in Archaeology International 17:61-68
  • Keinan, A., Bevan, A., Bonnachi, C., Pett, D., Wexler, J. and Wilkin, N. (2014) ‘MicroPasts. An Experiment in Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding Archaeology’ in British Archaeology November/ December 2014